I remember having a conversation with someone at a press event a few months back about how no game would better Wii Sports until Nintendo released its own follow-up. Now, while EA's Grand Slam Tennis isn't likely to completely replace that seminal title (seeing as it's just tennis), it's the first tennis game I've played on the Wii other than Wii Sports Tennis that I could see myself going back to. And not only that, it might just be the best tennis game I've ever played.
The big deal for Grand Slam Tennis is undoubtedly the fact it supports Nintendo's MotionPlus, the Wii Remote accessory that plugs in to give you almost 1:1 precision in terms of mapping your real world movements to those in the game. To prove just how good Grand Slam's implementation is I was first show how to play the game without the accessory plugged in. This worked surprisingly well, with shot direction determined by your swing's timing. On your forehand, for example, hit the ball early and you'll return it up the left of the court, but hit it late and you'll return it to the right.
This works and would itself probably be good enough for plenty of gamers, but it was definitely lacking something. Despite my best efforts it was tricky to get the direction and power I was after. With the MotionPlus accessory plugged in the game felt completely different and far more natural. Having played tennis in real life the shots suddenly became instinctive, and the rallies epic.
My opponent from EA was whipping the ball over the court at some extreme angles, but I was able to hit back with some wicked stokes of my own, hitting the court's lines with some stunning passing shots. Shot variety is handled through the way you swing, meaning it's incredibly natural. Swing from down to up and you'll perform a top spin shot; swing from up to down and you'll perform a slice. Holding A while swinging lobs, holding B does a drop shot. Player movement is more or less handled by the AI, but you can manually run into the net by pressing up on the d-pad.
It's hard to get across just how good it feels, but it's as close to real tennis as I've ever played - so much so that it may well be hard to switch from the Wii game to the 360/PS3 version arriving later this year, despite their undoubted increase in graphical quality.
Aside from MotionPlus support the fact that EA has licensed the four major tournaments is something of a coup too. While there's the French, US and Australian Open, the big news for us Brits is the exclusive Wimbledon licence. This means that you can be playing as Andy Murray as he disappointingly loses in the second round, presumably because he still hasn't learnt how to shave. EA pointed out that it's not just the main show courts you'll be playing on either, with your player progressing from the small outer courts to the show piece arenas should you make it through. Your overall goal isn't just to win Wimbledon, so being able to play on clay and hard courts, as well as grass will be key to your overall success in the game.
There's more too. Grand Slam Tennis will offer online play on Wii, for both singles and doubles matches, and numerous mini-games in the Social Tennis Party mode. These mini-games won't be crazy, based on real drills rather than anything in the realms of fantasy, but they will help you get fit - the same consultants used for EA's upcoming EA Sports Active have helped build this part of the game.
With around a month to go until the game hits stores we're really quite hopeful that Grand Slam Tennis is going to be all it promises. We're not completely sold on the visuals (the heads just look a bit odd to us, but we understand the look EA has gone for), but the MotionPlus gameplay is extremely solid and great fun. Look out for a review close to the game's release.
Grand Slam Tennis will be released for Wii on June 12, either by itself or as a premium bundle with Wii MotionPlus for £49.99.